A new report from Healthwatch and the British Red Cross looks at how well the new hospital discharge policy is working for patients, carers and healthcare professionals.
In March 2020, the Government introduced a new hospital discharge policy to help the NHS free up beds by getting people out of hospital quickly. This meant anyone who may need out-of-hospital support to help them recover would now have their needs assessed after being discharged, rather than in hospital.
How has the new policy affected people's experience of leaving hospital? Healthwatch and the British Red Cross spoke to over 500 patients and carers and conducted 47 in-depth interviews with health and care professionals involved in the hospital discharge process.
The research shows significant numbers of people are not receiving follow-up support after being discharged from hospital under new policy, leading to unmet needs.
- 82% of respondents did not receive a follow-up visit and assessment at home and almost one in five of these reported an unmet care need.
- Some people felt their discharge was rushed, with around one in five (19%) feeling unprepared to leave hospital.
- Over a third (35%) of people were not given a contact who they could get in touch with for further advice after discharge, despite this being part of the guidance.
- Overall patients and families were very positive about healthcare staff, praising their efforts during such a difficult time.
- Around a third (30%) of people faced an issue with delayed COVID-19 test results, potentially putting family and carers at risk, or in a care home, other residents and staff.
To help hospitals manage a second wave of COVID-19 hospital admissions ahead of winter, we have made several recommendations based on the experiences of people and staff, including:
- Post-discharge check-ins and assessments: Services should follow policy and ensure people are offered follow-up support soon after discharge, whether by phone or in person.
- Discharge checklists: Patients should be asked about the support they need, including any transport home and equipment required.
- Communication: Patients and carers should be given a single point of contact for further support or questions, in line with national policy.
- Medication: Waiting for medication can often lead to delays being discharged from hospital. Linking patients to voluntary sector partners or community pharmacists who can deliver medicine could avoid delays.
- Boost community care capacity and recognise the value of the voluntary care sector in hospital discharge: The current discharge policy depends on follow-up assessments and care being available. Longer-term, more investment is needed to ensure this happens, including in the voluntary care sector.